Sources For Theology: Reason

It is worth investing in some sort of learning of logic. Our ability to reason is incredibly important. Not only do we need to reason when it comes to putting together pieces of theology, but we also need to reason when simply deciphering the meaning of biblical passages. One of the examples of where our reasoning falls short is described later in this volume. In relation to general revelation, the definition of revelation typically implies that the individual can come to some sort of “general” knowledge of God. For example, I can see the complexity of design in nature, and thus reason that there is a designer, a creator. But that is not going to give the specific detail that God is triune.

It is said that general revelation cannot be salvational. It is impossible to be saved from general revelation. If this were the case, however, then we might question what revelation even is. If it is not the breaking in of truth, and the truth sets us free, then is it revelation? If we say that general revelation is indeed the breaking in of truth, but not in a salvific manner, then we must ask what is being set free at all? If there is truth to be revealed, namely, that God exists and that He has created the universe, then certainly that is enough to imply the next step of a personal deity that would require certain moral values. Our conscience even bears witness to that much. If this deity is not personal, then why would He create at all? And if indeed He is personal, then why would He allow us to continue in rejection of Him?

Therefore, it is stated that people can be condemned on the basis of general revelation, but cannot be saved. I would say that you cannot have it both ways. Either you cannot be condemned upon general revelation, because it is not revelation at all, or you can indeed be saved on the basis of general revelation. Sure, specific revelation must come. And, if it is true conversion, then it shall come. I would expect that for someone to see and reason even to the point of accepting and embracing general revelation would already mean that the Holy Spirit is drawing them.

This is the way that reason works. It is contradictory to hold to general revelation being both open revelation to all, and at the same time it is not able to save. It takes reasoning capacity to plunge the depths of our thoughts and theology. When we compare our theology of anthropology and salvation with eschatology, are they mutual? Or, if we contrast our beliefs regarding ecclesiology and God’s nature, do they agree? How often do our beliefs contradict, simply because we were unwilling to reason! There is the obvious argument that we should trust the Holy Spirit, but we must also not be naïve in thinking that demons or our own thoughts cannot whisper a false interpretation into our inner ear.

It is through reason that we “love God with all of [our] mind”. It is through reason that we “take captive every thought”. These commands are not possible outside of reason. They presuppose that we can reason. Even the discernment of the spirits presupposes that we can reason. Discernment does not work independent of our reason, but along side of. It is true that reason alone will come to false conclusions. This is why we trust in the Sprit to lead us into all truth. Yet, that in no way should validate for us the rejection of reason, especially if we are misunderstanding reason to be dead intellectualism.

In regard to reason as a source of theology, we can see how this can go south quite quickly. If all we use is philosophy and reason, by what means shall we come unto the God of Israel? What makes Jesus so much more obviously God than Allah? We hold to that it is not by reason, but by evidence that we are convinced. Yet, the interpretation of that evidence is based in reason. This is the relationship of reason to theology. Our reason is not foremost. Actually, reason is introduced after we’ve already been given the foundation. It is upon the foundation of recognizing certain truths of the faith that we then employ reason to interpret those truths. Reason will ultimately lie to us, because our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. It is the Scripture that reveals to us truth, and reason that helps us to put the pieces together. However, reason coupled with a proper relationship with Christ is a marvel.

Paul had said, “We’ve been given the mind of Christ”. If we take that as only applying to the apostle, then we have misunderstood the text. The pique of the Gospel is that Christ does not leave us to our own reason. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is an affront to reason. We are given a completely different ‘wisdom’ by which we think. This wisdom is the very wisdom of God. By that wisdom we reason concerning the faith. God endures suffering. It is in His nature. Therefore, any theology that promotes Christ taking all of the judgment and ‘curse’ so that we don’t have to endure it is a lie. We’re told to rejoice in trials and tribulation. We’re told that Christ chastises whom He loves. Just as God willingly endured suffering from the creation of the world – knowing that Adam would sin – and just as Jesus endured suffering on the cross, we too must endure suffering. It is innate within the faith. We uphold this by the reasoning of God, and not by the reasoning of men. This is where it is tricky.

If we hold to the mere philosophy of men, we come to a place where we begin to say things like, ‘Sin is anything that does not promote human flourishing.’ While this sounds good, it is a lie. It might be simple enough to understand, but it is wrong. We shouldn’t accept something as truth simply because it has good reasoning behind it. Our understanding comes from God. This is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom. If we don’t possess a proper relationship before the Lord, which leads us to understanding His mindset and heart, then we are left to our own devices, and it is no wonder why we have so many various opinions regarding the faith. The problem is not with our reasoning ability – that obviously works just fine. The problem is that it is our reason, and not the very intellect God has given us surrendered to the heart and purpose of God.

It is so simple, and yet such a stumbling block, to realize that God does not command us to reason out the faith according to our own brains. While reason is to be harnessed, it is to be harnessed in submission to the heart of God. Why do I not say submission to the Spirit? That phrase has been hijacked to mean too many contrary things to what I am speaking of. It isn’t about surrender to what the Spirit would whisper into your ear. It is about entering a mindset that God has established from the very beginning. It is about seeing God’s character and personality, and recognizing that disposition. It is about reflecting the Divine nature, and in reflecting His nature, embracing His temperament. From that lifestyle we begin to reason quite differently than we had previously reasoned. Suddenly our thoughts are not our own thoughts. We begin thinking like loons and fools in the world’s eyes. Yet, from the sight of heaven, this kind of reasoning is precious. It is rare. It is upon these grounds that reason is valid, and no other.

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6 thoughts on “Sources For Theology: Reason

  1. reason is just thinking. logic is a formal description of how we think. most of christian thought is philosophy. you have to ask how we can distinguish between “god murmurs” and “my thinking” and i don’t think we can. that’s an unimportant “problem” anyway.

    why we accept something as true is because it is the most reasonable thing to believe. it doesn’t matter whether we say our understanding is from ourselves or from god because regardless of source, it will either be the most reasonable thing to say or it won’t; this incidentally is what makes any murmuring objective at all.

    the sources for theology are history, literature including scripture, philosophy and so on. reasoning is simply what we do when accounting for all the facts we uncover.

    the interesting bit i found in your article is the idea god must be personal, and, i have to ask why and what you mean.

    certainly i care about the car i’ve just built but don’t have any intimacy with a lug nut on the wheel, no?

    the problem stated by theologians like aquinas, mccabe, geisler and so on is that we have no concept of god and our apprehension rather than comprehension of god forces all our language and ideas to be anthropomorphic. and while there may be a god, none of this can be said to have god as the referent and the truest referent is us.

    the classic view has been the same in all three abrahamic faiths. named, they are participatory pedagogy (judaism), fitrah (islam), and natural theory (christianity). each philosophically have as predicate that all thought including the farthest abstractions, are contingent to “place”; who we are and where, who we’ve been and when, and who we want to become.

    the consequence is that while god isn’t a necessary conclusion, it is absolutely certain that we have the idea of god because reality brings it to mind. now, there may be a god and this is how he planned it, or there may be no god and we’re simply highly anthropomorphic, but in all cases, we create god in our own image. we cannot know an incomprehensible god.

    that’s not a heresy or much argued in theology. the solution, if this is a troubling statement, is that we are icons of god and through our likeness to god, the evolving images we create of god, which are comprehensible, will coincide more or less but more so as we continue to understand ourselves.

    being drawn to the good, as donte suggests, is being drawn to god who is the good and the resonance in why we’re drawn aesthetically, morally, and in our thinking, our reasoning, is because we are like the god who created us in some way. we can understand god only in the sense we understand ourselves and to that extent, and only to the extent we are similar to god. as schillebeecks reminds as others do, it is participation in the good which transforms us and then reveals in us our nature, and in faith, we name the good, “god”.

    from that, the most reasonable view of sin is indeed that it is “anything which prevents human flourishing”. however, i tend to open it up a bit more by suggesting sin is “anything not of faith” where faith is only the engagement and participation the good, the doing of it; nothing to do with beliefs being central, where beliefs only matter in that they can be better or worse than others in helping us get into and understand what we’re doing and experiencing.

    what does atonement look like then? well, irenaeus’ recapitulation and abelard’s moral influence and believing jesus in the myriad places in scripture where he says he didn’t come to judge but save us from it (ie that kind of thinking, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil).

    of course there are reasons to adopt this view and reasons not to. this is why christian theology from the onset has been and continues to be developmental and communal. development of course being fully accounted for in the ideas of participatory pedagogy, fitrah, and natural theory … and why so many theories of atonement, soteriology, eschatology, and christology exist.

    we can only really say there is only one shared belief in christianity, as rashdall does in “theories of atonement in christianity”. that belief is that christ atones. the second thing to note is that no one knows how. the consequence isn’t that we can say one idea is true or false compared to another since all are based on scripture. the consequence is that we acknowledge that inerrancy is a moot point since we all interpret what’s written even if it were, and too, authority is only a communal term for the groups that form together having a shared particular view, and the same is true of the beliefs that bind them together.

    all we can say from within each group is whether or not our kind of community is bearing fruit, is representative of the good they seek.

    should we say that, no, there is a fundamental set of beliefs that must equate to “christian”, we do two things. we elevate our ignorance rather than reason over these obvious facts of the matter and make belief rather than the message of christ as what matters. second, we would in saying some, any, community engaged in the good is not christian; not by fruit but by creed. this is the so-called “unforgivable sin” because it is a denial of the holy sprit itself through which god works in drawing us all to him. this very much includes folks who do not profess, know, or even reject what they’ve been told about christ.

    just a few thoughts. sorry it went a bit long.

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    1. In regard to knowing “god murmurs” and “my thinking”, I do believe there is quite a simple way of discerning. Does this give us every fine detail? Of course not. We filter our understanding through the God who is revealed, and not the one whom we have conceived. Now, how do we know whether he has been revealed or if we’ve made up a fanciful imagining? Partially, it takes faith, but more directly, when you come in contact with a person, you forever have an idea of who that person is. I can learn all the understanding of a person’s hobbies, mentality, life achievements, etc, but when I actually meet them, I am given a deeper understanding. This, of course, leads to a bit of bias, but if we’re all dealing with the same God, then the conclusions should all be similar, if not the same.
      In regard to why God’s being a creator would jump to the conclusion of relationality, this comes from the notion that you and I are not inanimate beings. Your car might be something quite personal to you, but you’re quite right in saying that you don’t have any kind of “intimacy” with it. However, unlike your car, you and I are relational. Why would God create personal beings unless God were also personal?
      In regards to incomprehensibility, I understand full well that God is beyond complete comprehension. However, it could be asked if I’m able to completely comprehend any living creature. Can I comprehend my wife to the uttermost, or am I limited in my ability to know her fully? Yet, even if I am limited, that doesn’t then mean I can’t understand the quintessence of my wife. I can recognize the core of what makes her “her” instead of someone else.
      So, I did want to ask, why is reason something that you find unsatisfactory as a source for theology? I’m actually taking it from the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: reasons, philosophy, nature, and Scripture. I don’t think that those are the only sources, but certainly they do seem to have their place in my own mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh, i understand how you’re arriving at what you do and really don’t plan to do more than understand and maybe share some ideas, so i wouldn’t argue to counterpoint.

        all i would say is that reasoning is ubiquitous so it just makes little sense for me to say it’s a fundamental source for theology. indeed it is. but it is a fundamental source for everything we come to believe or set out to look into. that was why i wrote that brief paragraph as i did.

        and finally? a wesleyan and not a calvinist (who seem rampant, and rabid, on WP’s “theology” section)?! there is a god! =)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. on infallibility, we can say that because god is revealed in the good we can understand, for which the holy spirit is at work in any person who seeks it, the message of the gospel is precisely infallible because as through adam there is judgment for all, there is salvation for are from it for all despite our creeds that make judgment central to it; since it is for all and found only in participation with the good rather than alignment with certain beliefs, which is a mistaken predicate. infallible because god’s plan justly unfolds in everyone’s lives through revelation of the good despite our literally ignorant human belief systems. infallibility in spite of human ignorance and poor reasoning merely because love, an experience of the good, does win after all no matter what label we affix ourselves with.

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